, by  Tom Simnett

The customer isn't always right

How we make sure you get what you really need.

‘The customer is always right’. An age-old adage that I’m sure most of us have used as leverage at some point in our lives as consumers. And also may have been the diplomatic, lip biting recipient of as business owners.

For many years this was considered true. A motto regularly used by businesses and their staff to embrace their customers in a feeling of best practice, value and trust.

We’ve seen the B2C customer journey change dramatically over the past decade. Consumers engage in the sales process at a much later stage in the funnel, especially when it comes to highly informed purchases.

To a certain extent this works for business purchases too, but in our experience... customers almost always don’t know what they want!

At first read, we’ll admit that sounds somewhat blasé and could be considered a little arrogant. So let me explain my reasoning.

Most customers know what they want to end up with; they just don’t always know what's needed to get them where they want to be.
As bespoke software engineers, our role is to help them to understand what's involved in getting from where they are now, to where they want to be; in as cost-effective a manner as possible.

Theodore Levitt, the Harvard professor, famously said that "people don’t want to buy a quarter inch drill, they want quarter inch holes". They buy the drill bit (and perhaps the drill if they don’t already have one) in order to solve their problem. And it is the same for any purchase, whether it’s:

  • Drill bits – I need a hole

  • Cakes – I fancy a treat

  • Websites – I want my target audience to find me online

  • Lawnmowers – I'd like shorter grass

  • Web apps – I need a more efficient business

For some of these, the process of getting there is very simply a retail transaction. For others, it is more complicated and requires time, effort and expertise to resolve.

For some businesses, a software purchasing decision is made purely on price. They want a solution and the one they are considering is the cheapest. Or it is, at least, the cheapest right now - over time this may not be the case and our role is to make the customer think about lifetime costs, about lifetime value and the overall return on investment.

So what are the steps the customer should take to understand their purchasing decision fully?

  • The size of the current gap: what is the difference between where they are now and where they want to be? Generally, the bigger the gap, the bigger the investment required, but not always.

  • The number of people involved: how many people are actually involved?

  • Who are the stakeholders, the influencers, the customers and the deliverers? You may not be able to please everyone, but they must all understand the reasons for change and accept that change needs to happen.

  • How many steps need to happen: what needs to happen? Do 3rd party applications need to be integrated into your software?

  • How much time needs to be invested in the user experience (particularly for external facing issues).

  • What is being moved – data? product? people? – and many more steps…

  • What are the main priorities?

  • What are the implications of NOT doing something?

  • Can the project be done in stages? - often helpful to companies on a budget.

  • What are the costs of each stage?

  • Is there a budget for all stages, or just some?

The one big reason for taking customers through all of this is so that their expectations can be properly managed.

Whether they were referred or they simply found you independently, customers often only want one end result - the one that they want. And they are trusting you to help them get that end result and woe betide you if the end result isn’t what they expect.

We are in the business of getting our customers the solutions they need. After completing a business needs analysis, we can often find that what a customer wants and what they in fact need are two completely different things.

If you let them buy what they think they need, and it doesn’t deliver the desired end result, you know who they will blame – and it won’t be themselves!